How I Got My Smile Back

September 28, 2017


One year.

It's been one year since the day my face was paralyzed. One year since being diagnosed with Bell's Palsy. 

It's been the hardest year of my life, but also the most pivotal. When you wake up one day and can no longer do the things you did the day before, you change. Everything changes, really.

While I struggled with the temporary vision and hearing loss, the nerve pain and inability to move my face, I struggled most with how I looked. It's an interesting feeling, to be so utterly devastated by your appearance overnight. To look in the mirror with blurry eyes and feel completely unrecognizable. But in reality, that disfigured face wasn't the only part of myself I no longer recognized when I looked in the mirror one year ago.

At that point in my life, fear had completely filled my soul. Fear paralyzed me in ways I could hardly understand. I fought it, but it always lingered. There was constant worry, constant doubt, constant stress. I knew it was a problem, but when I looked in the mirror this time, I just broke down.

I thought I was a happy person. I thought I was doing well. But when you have such a life changing experience, which we all have at one point, it changes you. It's that pivotal moment when you are forced to reevaluate and reestablish and readjust your life. When you're forced to change.

But we fight it. We fight change and we fight our reality.

Even after I realized how problematic the fear was, I was still absorbed in it - and it manifested in even more ways than before the bell's palsy came. Fear of judgment, fear of not recovering, fear of not being loved, just so much fear. It was crippling fear even deeper than the pain of the nerve damage.

I remember thinking over and over again, this can't be my truth, this can't be my story. I can't be the girl that can't smile. But I also knew that I can't be the girl that ruins her life over this.

There were periods of time when I came to terms with how I looked. There were so many moments of triumph, but I always went back to the fear. As my face began to heal, slowly..so slowly, why wasn't I liking how I looked? Why didn't I suddenly change and burst and glow like I imagined? The transition was brutal and ugly and filled with so many tears. Why did I care so much about how I look - why do I still sigh and let those feelings of disdain and disappointment creep in when I see myself? Why am I so afraid that I'll never look the same?

For a few months, I said I just wouldn't smile. I just won't show that side of my face. I just won't do this, or that, or whatever. I just won't. And that fear of judgment and fear of not looking my best consumed me.


Then came the guilt.

It was a simple diagnosis and a simple situation compared to so many. Not a big deal, nothing to worry about. But it wrecked me, and it wrecked my already dwindling self esteem. I felt so much guilt for all the emotions I was feeling. I especially felt guilt for how I would always make my way from triumph and joy back to the fear, the anger, the bitterness, the sadness, and the confusion. I felt guilt for skipping out on events and isolating myself just because I was embarrassed of my looks.

But who was I outside of my looks? What reason would people have to like me beyond my smile?

Putting the pieces back together of my inner core and soul and spirit and rediscovering the goodness that had to exist within me - because it exists in everyone else, right? - so it had to exist in me. Well, it sometimes felt impossible. The longing and comparing and doubting was all encompassing.

But slowly, as slowly as the progression took place, I began to see more clearly: literally, symbolically. I began to see that people didn't value me for the way I looked, and that they never did. I began to realize that they saw and cared far beyond what I looked like. I began to realize that I didn't need to apologize for my looks, and that I was apologizing far too much for the wrong reasons.


I began to recognize that deep within me, somewhere along the line, I had lost sight of my value.

I had lost sight that I matter as a person, and I had lost sight that it wasn't selfish or wrong to seek self confidence and happiness and complete joy. I had lost sight that THAT was the point of it all: to find joy.


I've spent this past year growing and regressing, growing, regressing. Falling, stumbling, growing, getting back up. Running, sprinting in that search for happiness.

It's been an emotional roller-coaster to say the least. I've had to work hard to be in a place where I not only am getting through life okay, but to utterly and completely allow myself to enjoy my life for what it is NOW and not in that past that I always go back to. Or the future I envision, that my mind spends a lot of time in. And I would be lying if I failed to mention that this whole journey to self peace and self acceptance is still that: a journey. There have been so many days where I have to tell myself to just endure and to remind myself that it'll get better. It'll get better.

However, I still find myself running to the mirror, is it better? Is it improving? Do I look normal again? Will I ever look normal again?

But then again, why does it matter? Why does it matter that I have a crooked smile and a lazy eye. It's not who I am. I am not the freckles on my skin or the long red hair. I am so much more. And it feels uncomfortable to write that out, but it's something I'm trying to embrace.

It's easy to remind someone else that they are so much more. It's easy to encourage, and to speak this truth to others. It is far more trying to attempt directing that love inward. To speak kindly to ourselves.

It's hard because if you are like me, you are so fearful of pride that you disallow yourself from self love. And what a struggle that can be.

There have been so many baby steps throughout the year. Progress, then plateau. There has been time for progression, time for growth. Time to fight for acceptance and time to fight for change. 

The thing is, I knew I couldn't let a paralyzed face ruin my life. I had a decision to make, it was clear. I could pity myself and pity my situation. Have anger and bitterness that this happened. To stay stressed, to keep hiding. To let it ruin my life. Or I could pick myself up, forget myself, and serve. And work. And live.

I could hide or I could help.

And whether you have a paralyzed face, or whatever it may be, there will be days when you're going to stay in bed and cry and hate all that your life is about, and some days you're going to get up, and go, and appreciate. You're going to conquer fears and accomplish goals and love and grow. And it's okay to have both. It's okay to have bad days and bad weeks, but it can't be the entirety of your existence.

Letting go of the unrealistic expectations I had of myself to always look put together and perfect and pretty was one of the hardest things I had to do, but one of the most valuable. I would much rather be known for my eagerness to be real than my red hair. To be known for overcoming my fears instead of my freckles. To be known for my sincerity instead of my smile.

And as I've worked hard to move past this trial, I'm happier. My life is more full. And I have gained such a deeper perspective about the reality that we are so much more than what we look like. That people don't love us for how we look, that they see beyond the crooked smile and the messy hair and the tired eyes. They see us for who we are and for who we can become. They see us as our potential and our struggles. Our strengths and weaknesses. Our talents and gifts. Our sense of humor, our wit. Our love for others and love for this world.

I am not the person I was the day I lost my smile. I am better, and refined, and learning, and a work in progress. But most importantly, I'm happy. I'm happy where I'm at, right this very second. I'm more open, and honest, and more accepting of help. I'm more comfortable with who I am and how I look.

I am happy. I am whole. I am a better person than I was. Bell's Palsy was my blessing in disguise. The goodness hidden by the ugly.

A year ago I lost my smile, and because of that, I have never been happier.


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